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Interview: Nevada Flunks Ethics Report Card

Alexa Ard

A new report on government transparency gives Nevada an "F" for integrity. To learn why, Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey spoke with the Las Vegas-based journalist, Felicia Mello, who's been researching ethical lapses in Nevada's legislature.

Mello says Nevada scored worse than any other state in lobbying oversight.

"Lobbyists only have to report on their spending during the legislative session, so we don't have a good sense of what they're doing for the rest of that two-year period," she says.

In fact, Nevada's biennial legislature, which meets for four months every two years, is a primary contributor to ethical lapses, according to Mello.

"Nevada is a very libertarian state — traditionally there's been a belief in limited government, so efforts to move toward more regular legislative sessions have failed in the past," she says. "But I think as our state's population grows, as the economy becomes more complex ... I think it's going to be an issue that we see come up for discussion again."

Another area where Nevada could use improvement is its ethics enforcement.

"So here in Nevada, we only have one [ethics] investigator for the entire state," she says. "And there's been some confusion in the past about the ethics laws on the ethics commission itself."

State law bars commissioners from being actively involved in any political campaign, but during the 2014 election, three commission members actually ran for office themselves. 

Mello says the commission has also tended to focus more on education than enforcement or assessing penalties.

"So that may mean there are ethical violations that we as the public are not aware of because they're falling through the cracks," she says.

Although Nevada ranked 46th overall in state integrity, Mello says, some progress has been made.

"The state did pass a law in the last legislative session that bans gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers," she says. "There are a few exceptions to that law, so it remains to be seen exactly what impact that will have on journalists and lawmakers."

Click here to read the full report from the Center for Public Integrity. 

Julia Ritchey is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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